Ayodhya: Modi inaugurated the Ram temple in a grand manner ahead of the Indian elections

AYODYA, India (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Monday A controversial Hindu temple Built on the ruins of a historic mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, it delivered an important Hindu nationalist pledge that his ruling party hopes will win him a third consecutive term in the upcoming elections.

The temple, which is still under construction, is dedicated to Lord Rama of Hinduism and fulfills a long-standing demand of millions of Hindus who worship the revered deity. Modi's party and other Hindu nationalist groups have captured the demand and portrayed the temple as central to their vision of restoring Hindu pride, which they say was overshadowed by centuries of Mughal rule and British colonialism.

Dressed in a traditional kurta, Modi presided over the unveiling as Hindu priests chanted kirtans inside the temple's inner sanctum, where the 1.3-meter (4.3-foot) stone sculpture was installed last week. A conch was blown by a priest to mark the opening of the temple, and Modi placed a lotus flower in front of the black stone idol, adorned with intricate gold ornaments and carrying a golden bow and arrow.

Millions of Indians watched the ceremony on television, with news channels covering the event non-stop and portraying it as a religious spectacle.

Workers decorate a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama with flowers, the day before the temple's opening in Ayodhya, India, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Around 7,500 people, including businessmen, politicians and film stars, participated in the procession, where an army helicopter showered flowers on a giant screen outside the temple.

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Ayodhya was once full of tightly packed houses and stalls An elaborate decoration was done In presence of the 0 opening ceremony of the temple. Narrow roads have been converted into a four-lane pilgrimage route to the temple, tourists are flocking to the new airport and the sprawling railway station, and major hotel chains are building new properties.

Jubilant devotees from all over the country come to celebrate the opening, with groups dancing to religious hymns blaring from loudspeakers along flower-bedecked roads. Huge cut-outs of Lord Rama and billboards of Modi are ubiquitous across Ayodhya, where borders have been sealed to prevent more people from entering. About 20,000 security personnel and more than 10,000 security cameras have been deployed.

Harish Joshi from Uttarakhand arrived in Ayodhya four days before the ceremony. “I am here to watch history unfold before our eyes. Over the centuries, Rama's story resonated in the hearts of millions of people,” he said.

Analysts and critics watch Monday's ceremony Election campaign for Modi beginsA staunch Hindu nationalist and one of India's most prominent leaders, he sought to transform the country from a secular democracy to a distinctly Hindu state during his 10-year rule.

The shrine, one of India's most troubled religious sites, is expected to bolster Modi's chances of a third consecutive term in power, playing on the religious sentiments of Hindus, who make up 80% of India's 1.4 billion population.

Indian Air Force helicopters shower flower petals on a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama ahead of its grand opening in Ayodhya, India, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024.  (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Indian Air Force helicopters shower flower petals on a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama ahead of its grand opening in Ayodhya, India, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Built at a cost of $217 million and covering an area of ​​nearly 3 hectares (7.4 acres), the temple sits atop the ruins of the 16th-century Babri Masjid, which was razed to the ground by Hindu mobs in 1992. Ruins of a temple marking the birth place of Lord Rama.

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The site has long been a religious flashpoint for both communities, with the mosque's demolition sparking bloody riots across India that killed 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

The dispute ended in 2019 In a controversial ruling, India's Supreme Court said the destruction of the mosque was a “gross violation” of the law, but awarded the site to Hindus while giving other land to Muslims.

This fraught history is still an open wound for many Muslims, who see the temple building as evidence of Modi's Hindu-first politics.

Officials say the three-tiered pink sandstone temple will open to the public after the festival and expect 100,000 devotees to visit it daily. Builders are still working to complete the 46 elaborate doors and intricate wall carvings.

The inauguration has become a major national event.

Modi's government planned live screenings across the country and even showed the event in theaters in some cities offering free popcorn. Ruling party workers went door-to-door handing out religious flags, while Modi encouraged people to celebrate by lighting lamps at homes and local temples. Government offices were closed for half a day on Monday and several states declared public holidays. Even stock markets and money markets were closed for the day.

But not everyone is happy. Four prominent Hindu religious authorities refused to attend, saying consecration of an unfinished temple was against Hindu scriptures. Some top leaders of India's main opposition Congress party are also boycotting the event, with many opposition legislators accusing Modi of using the temple to score political points.

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Salik and Pati report from New Delhi.

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